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As the Kentucky General Assembly goes into its late-session recess, most of the issues that legislators came into the session looking to resolve remain unresolved.
Of the biggest topics coming into the session, only the revamping of how special taxing districts are handled was converted into a bill about which both House and Senate members could agree, but issues such as state pension reform, redistricting, the legalization of industrial hemp and tax reform remain with just a 2-day action period remaining.
However, both state Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) and state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) said Thursday that they remain optimistic that a flurry of bills can hit in those final two days.
Any bill passed on those final two days, however, would not get a review by the legislature if it were to be vetoed by Gov. Steve Beshear.
“I think pension reform is still a possibility. I’m cautiously optimistic that we can get it worked out,” said Montell, who sits on the State Government committee, which oversees the state retirement system. “The governor says he’ll call a special session if we don’t get it worked out, but if there is no movement and agreements on both sides in the next two weeks [during the recess], I hope he doesn’t call the special session, because it will be a waste of time.”
Montell said there will be several meetings during these two weeks among House and Senate leadership and Beshear to see if the differences can be addressed.
“The disconnect is that the House leadership wants to identify a funding source to pay for the reform, and the Senate leadership has not been receptive to the House’s ideas of funding,” Montell said.
The Senate’s stance has been to vote on and secure policy changes, while working on funding sources while working through the budget process next year.
“If we can find a funding source that we agree on, I’m all for it,” Montell said. “But if not, I can’t think of a reason we shouldn’t look at putting policy in place.”
Hornback said the clock is ticking on pension reform.
“That’s probably the biggest problem out there, and every year we wait it adds to what we have to pay off in the future,” he said.
To fund the system fully, it’s expected the state would need $100 million to $120 million from the general fund next year and similar amounts in the coming years. The higher amount would boost investment returns and possibly allow for lower future payments.
Hornback also has two controversial bills still hanging that he hopes will be brought up during the final two days.
“The hemp bill and the telecommunications bill, I think will come back up,” he said. “We’ll discuss them between now and the twenty-fifth, and I think they’ll either come back up for a vote or be killed.”
The hemp bill would make it legal for Kentucky famers to grow industrial hemp if the federal legislation banning the crop is lifted. Kentucky’s Congressional delegation is supporting such a move.
Just before the recess an amendment was added to Hornback’s bill by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins (D-Sandy Hook), establishing a 5-year research program in which hemp growers are licensed by state police; registering hemp processors; and creating tax credits for growers and processors of industrial hemp.
The telecommunications bill would allow phone companies to stop being required to provide land-line phone service to new customers if the area has adequate cell phone service or high-speed Internet service that is capable of providing phone service unless that community has less than 5,000 households.
“I believe both bills bring revenue and jobs to the state, and if they’re presented to the House for a vote, they will pass,” he said.
Both Hornback and Montell say they believe at this point that a special session, which must be called by Beshear and can only work on topics of his choice – for instance, pension of redistricting – is bad idea, unless concessions are made during the 2-week recess.
“Unless a deal is already brokered, there’s no point in calling a special session,” Hornback said. “I know the members of the Senate are doing everything they can to avoid a special session. If we can’t agree on it in a regular session, we won’t agree on it in a special session.”
During these 2 weeks, Beshear will review the remainder of 107 bills passed in the session with the option to veto. The legislature, when it reconvenes for March 25-25, will the revue to vetoed bills and possibly take action on other bills.